It’s easy to assume that idolatry is not an issue in the lives of most modern Western Christians. Polytheism isn’t a struggle you hear anyone talk about, and we tend to not physically bow down in front of idols.
But idolatry is alive and well. Nashville pastor Pete Wilson explores modern idols in his second book, Empty Promises: The Truth About You, Your Desires, and the Lies You’re Believing. It isn’t the first book in recent years to explore modern idolatry. Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods (which is cited several times in this book) is perhaps the most recent example, and another one I’ve read is Vinoth Ramachandra’s Gods That Fail (which deals specifically with idolatry as it relates to Christian mission).
Empty Promises takes a look at the idols of Success, Approval, Power, Money, Religion, Beauty, and Dreams (hopes for the future, not what happens when you’re asleep). Each chapter follows a similar formula: first Wilson explains how something can function as an idol, then he brings a biblical perspective on it, and finally talks about how the idol can be defeated. At the end of the book there are chapters on how to defeat idols more generally: one chapter explores the idea that we become what we worship, another explores the spiritual disciplines of solitude, fasting, Scripture study and prayer as ways out of idolatry, and the last one talks about finding genuine satisfaction in God rather than idols.
This is a very good introduction to the subject of idolatry for someone who might not have thought about their life struggles in terms of idolatry before. My only two critiques of the book are not in what was included, but in what was left out. First, Wilson was very good at naming the idols that individuals get wrapped up in worshiping, but various ideologies can and have, at various times, become idols for the Church on a large scale. It would have been good to spend some time exploring how these idols affect not just individuals and their circles of influence, but the Church as a whole. Second, a big part of the biblical emphasis on idolatry is God’s anger at it, which really doesn’t come through in this book as much as it could have. It is good that Wilson emphasizes that idolatry prevents us from being who God wants us to be (which is true), but a big part of the prophetic condemnation of idolatry in the Bible is that God hates it. He hates it because he loves us and wants something better for us. Idolatry is serious business.
Despite those two suggestions, I would recommend this book for those looking to gain a greater understanding of idolatry and how it still affects our lives.
Note: Thanks to Thomas Nelson for a review copy of this book. I was not asked to give a positive review.